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Rapid Growth in Size of Macomb Demonstrations

 Demonstrators at the northwest corner of Chandler Park
Rich Egger
Demonstrators at the northwest corner of Chandler Park

Communities throughout the region have held demonstrations in response to the killing of George Floyd. In Macomb, the protests have been taking place several days a week.

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As TSPR reported last week, the demonstrations began with one woman -- Kali Shelton -- holding a Black Lives Matter sign. They have since grown to include more than 100 demonstrators.

Shelton said not only are more and more people showing up, but more drivers are honking their horns in support as they pass the protest along the north edge of Chandler Park. She also said businesses and individuals have donated water, snacks, and sunscreen.

“I never thought that it would have been this big or (lasted) this long. I just expected to come out that one day, and it’s definitely overwhelming,” Shelton said.

She said she will keep coming out as long as others are willing to join her. 

Community Leaders Participate

Shelton said Mayor Mike Inman is among the people who have joined her.

“I told him that he had to stand out here and hold a sign or he couldn’t stay,” she said with a laugh, adding Inman took a sign and held it for a while.

Western Illinois University students Aneesa Davis, Tymera Smith, and Chariel Morris (left to right) with WIU Interim President Martin Abraham.
Credit Photo courtesy of Tammie Leigh Brown Edwards
Western Illinois University students Aneesa Davis, Tymera Smith, and Chariel Morris (left to right) with WIU Interim President Martin Abraham.

Other community leaders have also participated, including Western Illinois University Interim President Martin Abraham and Police Chief Curt Barker.

Several uniformed police officers have been on hand -- not to curtail the protests but rather to participate in them.

Deputy Chief Dave Burnham said the department allows officers to participate on their own time if they so choose.

“If we’re out here in plain clothes, you don’t necessarily know they’re a police officer. So we want to be out here in uniform to support our community - everyone in our community - and that’s what we feel that we’re doing,” Burnham said.

Burnham said employees from the McDonough County Sheriff’s office and the Western Illinois University Office of Public Safety have also participated.

Regarding the killing of George Floyd, Burnham said police officers are responsible for people in their custody. He said the Macomb Police Department does not teach its officers to engage in tactics such as chokeholds or putting a knee on someone’s neck.  

Annette Carper, Macomb’s Third Ward Alderwoman and Executive Director of the Housing Authority of McDonough County, also joined the demonstration.

“I think as a leader in the community it’s my obligation to stand up and speak out against injustice,” Carper said.

“It’s time to be done with this stuff. We need to move on. We need to educate ourselves. We need to embrace one another. And that’s why I’m here.”

The Next Steps

Carper said she’s prepared to open up the community center at the Prairieview Homes public housing complex in Macomb for “difficult conversations” about racial issues.

“We can sit down with leaders from our community that are of color and Caucasian and have difficult conversations. We have to start talking about our differences,” she said.

She hoped the conversations can begin as soon as it is safe to hold public gatherings.

During part of the demonstration Carper stood next to Byron Oden-Shabazz, President of the NAACP Branch of McDonough County. He is on-board with Carper’s plan for difficult conversations.  He said solutions must come from the local level.

“We can talk about things that happen at other places that are national issues, but you have to start at home,” said Oden-Shabazz.

Demonstrator Morrow Owens shared a similar sentiment. She said people can help bring about change by holding family members, friends, and co-workers accountable.

“If they say something that might offend someone else, a bad joke or something else that might hurt someone else’s feelings, you need to tell them, ‘Hey dude, that’s not cool,’” Morrow said.

Another demonstrator, Celeste Townsend, said she is working to get a permit from the city to hold a silent march as part of a global event on July 7. 

“We’re all going to walk together at the same time - at noon in our respective areas - just to show solidarity and that we’re all together,” Townsend said.

She would also like Macomb to create a community review board with a diverse group of members. She said that board could help those who encounter a problem with a legal proceeding.

“I think in Macomb there needs to be more of a reflection on the city level of the demographics in the community that’s here,” Townsend said. She believes that can happen if people vote and if young people get involved in the struggle to bring about change.

In addition, Townsend would like to see community members raise money for the local NAACP branch and she would like to see more after school programs.

Separate from those ideas, demonstrator Maya Lee said she is working with others to develop an action plan.

“Our plan is to generate that, create a lot of research, find out what’s going on with systemic racism in the Macomb area. And then once we have a more developed action plan, we’re planning to present that to city officials and the police department as well,” she said.

Lee said the support from community leaders at the demonstrations has been great but she is looking for action from them as well.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Copyright 2020 Tri States Public Radio

Rich is the News Director at Tri States Public Radio. Rich grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago but now calls Macomb home. Rich has a B.A in Communication Studies with an Emphasis on Radio, TV, and Film from Northern Illinois University. Rich came to love radio in high school where he developed his “news nerdiness” as he calls it. Rich’s high school had a radio station called WFVH, which he worked at for a couple years. In college, Rich worked at campus station WKDI for three years, spinning tunes and serving at various times as General Manager, Music Director and Operations Manager. Before being hired as Tri States Public Radio’s news director in 1998, Rich worked professionally in news at WRMN-AM/WJKL-FM in Elgin and WJBC-AM in Bloomington. In Rich’s leisure time he loves music, books, cross-country skiing, rooting for the Cubs and Blackhawks, and baking sugar frosted chocolate bombs. His future plans include “getting some tacos.”